MABINOGION . The eleven native prose tales extant in Middle Welsh are known collectively as the Mabinogion. This convenient modern title, based on a scribal error in a single medieval manuscript, may convey a false impression of the homogeneity of these stories. Found in two related manuscripts of the fourteenth century, the White Book of Rhydderch and the Red Book of Hergest, they are literary compositions ranging in date from the late eleventh century to the mid-thirteenth century. They are derived, as complete tales or their episodes, from traditional oral narratives, and they bear witness, however imperfectly, to a large body of traditional material (Wel., cyfarwyddyd), other relics of which are extant in the collections of triads, the Stanzas of the Graves, and other allusions. The sources reflected are diverse—mythological, legendary, and international folkloric. The most clearly mythological are those tales known as the "Four Branches" of the Mabinogion (c. 1060–1120).
An attempt has been made to associate mabinogi with the name of the youth god Maponos (Wel., Mabon), son of Matrona (Wel., Modron), the mother goddess, and to suggest the meaning "Mabonalia," but the word occurs elsewhere in Middle Welsh meaning "childhood" or "beginnings," and there refers to the deeds of the precocious youthful hero which are portents of his future greatness. An extended meaning may be simply a tale of heroes or, perhaps, of ancestors.
The Four Branches are independent stories linked by cross-references and motivating episodes, but accretions and restructuring over a long period have so complicated the narrative that it is difficult to postulate what the original hero-tale may have been. W. J. Gruffydd's attempt to re-create a heroic biography of one major character, Pryderi, is too ambitious and is based on a misinterpretation of the Old Irish tale-types; Brinley Rees, following Georges Dumézil, offers a scheme of three functions as an original, unifying structure. Contemporary scholarship, however, regards the Four Branches of the Mabinogi as the work of a single author and looks for an authorial thematic unity which has brought together a numer of disparate narratives.
The First Branch contains the birth-tale of Pryderi, son of Pwyll, lord of Dyfed (in southwestern Wales); Pwyll was known as "head of Annwn" because of his stay in the otherworld in the guise of its king, who had called upon him to help overcome an adversary. Upon his return Pwyll marries Rhiannon and they have a son, but the infant disappears from his crib. The child is subsequently discovered at the court of another nobleman, Teyrnon, some seventy miles distant, when a giant arm is amputated as it attempts to steal a foal on May Eve. There are many inconsistencies and gaps in the narrative, which seems to be a conflation of the motifs of the calumniated wife, the monster hand, and the congenital animals, but presumably it was intended to give an account of the birth of the hero in Annwn or to divine parents. Rhiannon is a Welsh counterpart of *Rigantona, queen-goddess, and is to be compared with Teyrnon, or *Tigernonos, king-god; her name and function are close to those of Matrona, whose son Maponos was taken from his mother's side when three nights old, according to an allusion in the eleventh-century story Culhwch and Olwen. She is probably identical with Epona, shown in Gaulish iconography as riding a horse, which recalls Rhiannon's associations with horses. Both Rhiannon and her son Pryderi are abducted in the Third Branch, and his loss is reflected in the wasting of his lordship of Dyfed.
The Third and Fourth Branches are complex narratives, both located in Gwynedd in northwestern Wales. The protagonists of the Fourth Branch are members of the divine family of Dôn (cf. Irish Tuatha Dé Danann)—Gwydion, the magician; Aranrhod, who gave birth to Lleu (cf. Irish Lugh; Gaulish Lugus) and Dylan, who was the son of the Wave and had the nature of a fish; Amaethon, the divine plowman; and Gofannon (cf. Irish Goibhniu), the divine smith. The story relates how Gwydion fashioned a wife from flowers for his nephew Lleu, cursed by his mother never to have a name, arms, or a wife.
The Second Branch describes the tragic result of the marriage of Branwen, daughter of Llŷr, to the Irish king Mathonwy and the devastation caused when her brother Brân, the giant king of Britain, and his brother Manawydan rescue her. Llŷr is possibly cognate with the Irish ler ("sea"), and there is probably some relationship between the Welsh characters and the Irish Manannán mac Lir and Bran of The Voyage of Bran, although the stories in Welsh and Irish do not correspond closely.
The other stories of the Mabinogion are briefer and simpler narratives. Cyfranc Lludd a Llefelys, first found as an interpolation in a Welsh translation by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia regum Britanniae (c. 1200), is an extended triad. It may be a popular version of a mythological account of the winning of Britain by waves of invaders—otherworldly, Roman, and Saxon—or, according to another analysis, its three episodes, about fairy creatures, fighting dragons, and the food thief, reflect the Indo-European tripartite functions of sagacity, warfare, and provision. The Dream of Maxen is popular history, an account of the marriage of the Roman emperor Magnus Maximus (r. 383–388) with a British princess and the subsequent foundation of Brittany. Culhwch and Olwen (c. 1060) is an extended version of the folk tales Six Go through the World and The Giant's Daughter; the Dream of Rhonabwy (thirteenth century?) is a pastiche of traditions and themes put together as social satire and a parody of literary modes. The three romances, Geraint, Owain, and Peredur, are related to three romances by the twelfth-century French poet Chrétien de Troyes, although the nature of the interdependence is still problematic. The ultimate sources, however, are Celtic (Welsh or Breton), and they seem to contain examples of the sovereignty myth (better evidenced in Irish) wherein the hero, or king, marries the titular goddess of his land, thereby ensuring its fruitfulness. In the extant versions the significance of the myth has been lost, and little of its primitive value remained for either authors or audiences.
All these stories are translated into English in Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones's The Mabinogion (London, 1993). Patrick K. Ford translates seven of them and discusses their possible mythological bases in The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales (Berkeley, 1977). Proinsias Mac Cana's Celtic Mythology (London, 1983) is an excellent introduction to the broader mythological themes, while Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Welsh Triads, 2d ed. (Cardiff, 1978) discusses many of the characters of Welsh myth and legend. W. J. Gruffydd's Math vab Mathonwy (Cardiff, 1928) and Rhiannon (Cardiff, 1953) were pioneer studies of the structure of the Four Branches but need to be used with care; Brinley Rees, Ceinciau'r Mabinogi (1975; Llandysul, 1999) is an interesting Dumézilian study. Proinsias Mac Cana, The Mabinogi (Cardiff, 1992) and Sioned Davies, The Four Branches of the Mabinogi (Llandysul, 1993) cover a number of topics. Other useful studies of the narrative tradition are: Kenneth Jackson, The International Popular Tale and Early Welsh Tradition (Cardiff, 1961), W. J. Gruffydd, Folklore and Myth in the Mabinogion (Cardiff, 1958), J. K. Bollard, "The Role of Myth and Tradition in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi,"Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 6 (1983): 67–86, Andrew Welsh, "The Traditional Narrative Motifs of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi," Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 15 (1988): 51–62, Juliette Wood, "The Calumniated Wife in Medieval Welsh Literature," Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 10 (1985): 25–38, P. K. Ford, "Prolegomena to a Reading of the Mabinogi : 'Pwyll' and 'Manawydan,'" Studia Celtica 16/17 (1981–1982): 110–25, Georges Dumézil, "La quatrième branche du Mabinogi et la thèologie des trois functions," Rencontres des religions (Paris, 1986): 25–38. For mythological themes in Cyfranc Lludd a Llefelys see the edition by Brynley F. Roberts (Dublin, 1975), Georges Dumézil, "Triades de calamités et triades de délits a valeur trifonctionelle chez divers peuples indo-européens," Latomus 14 (1955): 173–185.
Brynley F. Roberts (1987 and 2005)
A collection of ancient Welsh legends translated into English by Lady Charlotte Guest (1812-1895) and published 1838-49. The title is the plural form of the Welsh maginogi, originally indicating stories of a hero's childhood, but is here used in the wider sense of "hero tale." The stories in this collection are from various manuscript sources, originally part of the oral tradition of professional minstrels known as cyvarwyddon.
In this collection, the section entitled the Four Branches of the Mabinogi derives from a manuscript ca. 1060 C.E. , dealing with pre-Christian myths that have affinities with traditional Irish folklore. Kilhwch and Olwen is from a manuscript ca. 1100 C.E. and is an early Arthurian romance. The Dream of Rhonabwy is another Arthurian story, related to the French recension of Didot Perceval. The Lady of the Fountain, Geraint, and Peredur are also Arthurian, ca. 1200 C.E. , colored by Breton and French culture, although Celtic in origin. The Dream of Maxen, dating from the twelfth century, is a literary work rather than folk tale, the plot resembling the Irish Dream of Oengus. Taliesin dates from a sixteenth-century manuscript; it concerns a famous bard of the sixth century and has affinities with Irish legends.
In addition to the translation by Lady Charlotte Guest, there is also a later translation by Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones (1949).
(See also Wales )
These stories, together with a number of other tales from the Red Book of Hergest, were translated and published by Lady Charlotte Guest as the Mabinogion (1838–49).